|Veterans prepare for first playoff exposure with Patriots||01.03.13 at 5:13 pm ET|
FOXBORO — Brandon LLoyd is preparing to do something he has never done before: Play in the NFL postseason. The 31-year-old always knew the day would come, though.
Asked Thursday if he had ever wondered over the years whether he’d see the playoffs, Lloyd replied, “No,” declining to elaborate.
The first nine years of his career, spent between San Francisco, Washington, Chicago, Denver and St. Louis, saw him play for a lot of teams, but none that would see the postseason. Now on his sixth team (how many first-round picks can say that?), Lloyd had to know that being in New England meant playing in the postseason. As his season stretches out at least two weeks longer than usual, he’s just trying to keep everything the same.
“I’m pretty much going to approach it like I’ve been approaching all the games all season,” Lloyd said. “Putting together a good week of practice is pretty much how it’s always going to start. Paying attention to the assignments and just taking care of business.”
In his first season with the Patriots, Lloyd has 74 receptions for 911 yards and four touchdowns. His 130 targets are second to only Wes Welker (174).
Lloyd said on Thursday that he isn’t one to watch a lot of games on television (which makes sense because he’s usually working on Sundays), but he’ll keep an eye on this weekend’s games — particularly Cincinnati at Houston — as he readies for the divisional round.
As for perhaps the biggest benefit of the bye week — rest — Lloyd seems too eager to be worried about resting. The extra week off will undoubtedly help some of the banged-up Pats — Aqib Talib, Rob Ninkovich, etc. — but Lloyd sees the bye week as extra time to get ready for the second season.
“I think the bye week is more for preparing for our opponents,” he said. “It’s going to give us a head start — who we’re going to see, who we’re going to be playing. We’re going to have extra days of preparation for them, so the first-round bye is more for preparation as opposed to resting up, per se.”
Other veteran Patriots seeing the postseason for the first time include Talib and Trevor Scott, but Talib doesn’t see inexperience in the playoffs as a disadvantage.
“I’ve never been to the postseason, but I’m not a rookie or nothing,” the fifth-year player said. “Once we get out there and the game starts, it’s still football.”
Christopher Price contributed to this report.
|Vince Wilfork learns that ‘protecting’ teammates costs $30,000||12.28.12 at 4:52 pm ET|
FOXBORO — Say this much, Vince Wilfork couldn’t have been very surprised when he got the envelope from the NFL on Friday.
The perennial pro bowl nose tackle was informed that he would be $30,000 lighter for his act of team unity last Sunday in Jacksonville.
Midway through the fourth quarter, Patrick Chung picked off Chad Henne at the goal line and raced 28 yards on the ensuing return. Toward the end of the return, Jaguars offensive lineman Steve Vallos drilled Patriots defensive end Trevor Scott from behind with a forearm.
Wilfork retaliated with a similar hit. Wilfork admitted after the game that he expected some sort of financial discipline from the league for the hit.
‘That was protecting my teammate, plain and simple,’ Wilfork said. ‘You’re not going to sit right in front of me and take a cheap shot at my guy with me standing behind you, that won’t fly. Plain and simple. I’ll probably get penalized for it, I did, but at the same time, you’ll never see me letting my teammates just get cheap-shotted like that with me standing right there.
‘It is what it is, it’s part of football. Some people might not like it, some people might like it, but I’m going to do everything I can to protect my teammates,’ he continued. ‘And I was protecting my teammate. But it is what it is, and I don’t think twice about it. If it happened again, I’d protect my teammate the best way I could.’
On Friday, the NFL deemed the hit “unnecessary roughness for a forearm to the back of the head” after Wilfork took exception with the way Vallos hit Patriots defensive end Trevor Scott just moments earlier on the return. Vallos was not flagged but Wilfork and the Patriots were assessed a 15-yard penalty.
Ironically, Chung was not fined for his hit to the head of Cecil Shorts III during Jacksconville’s final drive. Four different flags were thrown in Chung’s direction when he dropped his shoulder into Shorts with Devin McCourty already applying the tackle. Chung was assessed a 15-yard penalty for a hit on a defenseless receiver but the NFL confirmed Friday that the hit did not warrant an additional fine.
|Bill Belichick: Jermaine Cunningham will have some ‘catching up’ to do||12.26.12 at 4:26 pm ET|
FOXBORO — Defensive end Jermaine Cunningham returned to Patriots practice on Wednesday and will be eligible to return to game action this Sunday against Miami in the regular season finale. But Bill Belichick made it clear Wednesday that his return to the starting lineup is hardly automatic.
Cunningham was suspended Nov. 26 for four games by the NFL for violation of the league’s performance enhancing drug policy. At the time of his suspension, Cunningham was coming on stronger than anyone along the defensive line not named Vince Wilfork. He had six tackles against the Jets on Thanksgiving, with 2.5 sacks and six quarterback hits in 11 games before his league-mandated break.
“I think any time a player comes back after an absence for awhile ‘ whatever the reasons are don’t matter ‘ that there’s a combination of catching up mentally to what’s going on but also catching up from a technique standpoint and also communication and reaction,” Belichick said.
“Really, no matter how much a player runs around a track or does situps or whatever, it’s not the same as when the other 21 guys are out there hearing plays called, reacting to what happens on the other side of the play, communicating, making adjustments with your teammates. There’s just no way to do that other than to do it. I think that’s important for any player that’s coming back after missing some time, regardless what the reasons are. That’s definitely something that they need to do and they need to do it with their teammates. It’s something their teammates need to have happen as well as the individual player who wasn’t there himself. All that is part of it.”
Certainly, the bright side of the Cunningham suspension has the increased experience of defensive ends Justin Francis and Trevor Scott, especially Francis, an undrafted rookie out of Rutgers. Francis got experience he otherwise likely would not have seen on the field.
“It’s certainly a positive for some of the players who get those opportunities,” Belichick said. “If they can take advantage of them and use that opportunity to enhance their role or show through their performance that they’re ready to handle more responsibility, it’s a good thing for them and ultimately it can be a good thing for the team to be able to actually see those guys do it, see those guys improve, watch them get more reps in practice and in the games and get more confidence in them and know that their execution level is higher from that. I’d say that’s accurate.
Cunningham’s return at Wednesday’s walk-through was part of perfect attendance inside Dana-Farber Field House as the team worked out without pads and helmets.
|Poll: Who was MVP of Patriots’ division-clinching win?||12.02.12 at 4:38 pm ET|
Wes Welker had 12 catches for 103 yards and a touchdown. Aaron Hernandez had eight grabs for 97 yards. Trevor Scott had a strip-sack and finished with two sacks. Stevan Ridley finished with 71 yards on 19 carries and was huge on the game-clinching drive.
Tom Brady was sacked four times but still finished 24-of-40 for 238 yards while Ridley went over 1,000 yards rushing for the season. Welker finished with 12 catches on 18 targets and 103 yards, his 28th career 100-yard receiving game and his 16th with at least 10 catches. Hernandez added eight grabs on 13 targets and 97 yards.
|Justin Francis: ‘I like getting after the quarterback’||11.29.12 at 2:02 pm ET|
FOXBORO — In the wake of the four-game suspension for Patriots defensive end Jermaine Cunningham, the first name mentioned as a possible replacement was veteran Trevor Scott. And for good reason. The 28-year-old Scott has NFL experience and was brought in to provide the just the kind of depth the Patriots need right now.
But do not overlook Justin Francis.
He is yet another product of the Greg Schiano Rutgers program on the roster. The 23-year-old possesses the type of explosive speed (4.9 in the 40) – if undersized (6-foot-4, 270 lbs.) – the Patriots were looking for when they signed him as an undrafted free agent in the spring. The Patriots projected Francis as a depth guy on the outside and he has made big strides in his rookie year.
He has moved ahead of third-round pick Jake Bequette on the depth chart, as Bequette has played in just two games this season while Francis has appeared in five, including five of the last six games for the Patriots.
What makes him such an attractive option to the Patriots as a potential replacement to the pass-rushing Cunningham?
“I like getting after the quarterback,” Francis said. “Wherever coach wants me to play, I’m going play. If it’s quarterback, it’s quarterback. If it’s cornerback, it’s cornerback but I don’t think I’ll be playing any of those positions. Whatever coach wants me to play, and however I can get to the quarterback is all that matters to me.”
Francis was activated for the Denver game on Oct. 7 but did not play. He made his NFL debut the next week and played in four straight games for the Patriots, as the team looked to give Vince Wilfork, Kyle Love and Chandler Jones rest.
“It’s somewhat of a climbing [process], been working pretty hard this whole time and trying to take it a day at a time and follow after the guys I have to follow after. I’m just trying to do the best thing for me and the team.”
“Every day is an opportunity to get better and anything can happen. The way I take it is you have to be prepared, prepared for whatever happens. By being prepared, you’re going to help the team. That’s all I’m doing right now, listening to Vince, listening to coach and listen to my position coach and listen to all the older guys who are guiding me along the way.”
Francis is most appreciative of the family atmosphere he’s been brought into and is thriving in.
“It’s been good,” Francis said. “We’ve grown a pretty good bond. We’ve spent time outside the stadium and a helluva lot of time in here. The bond is growing and we’re getting tighter as a unit. That’s all you can really hope for and appreciate.”
|Bill Belichick: When it comes to replacing Jermaine Cunningham, Patriots have two options||11.27.12 at 3:52 pm ET|
Patriots coach Bill Belichick said Tuesday that when it comes to replacing defensive end Jermaine Cunningham, the Patriots will ‘have to take a look at’ their options going forward, but praised the work of Trevor Scott as a possible fill-in at the spot.
‘Basically there are two options: we can bring somebody in from outside and sign them to the roster or we can do something with a player on the practice squad,’ he said on a conference call on Tuesday. ‘We’ll see. [We’ll] take a look at our options, talk to Nick Caserio, get his thoughts and input on it relative to the personnel that’s available, like we usually do. [We’ll] handle it the same as we usually handle those type of situations and then try to make the best decision for the team that we can for this week and the remaining five games.’
Cunningham said Tuesday that when it comes to Cunningham’s situation, ‘it’s a league matter, so it’s really out of our hands.’ As for Scott, he remains an option. He recently saw an uptick in playing time with the injury to Chandler Jones, and could realistically hold the fort until Cunningham is ready to return after his four-game suspension.
‘I think Trevor has done well,’ Belichick said. ‘Trevor is a versatile player. He’s a player that can play in coverage situations and has done that in the past. He’s played outside linebacker, similar to [Rob] Ninkovich, that type of a role. He’s played more down for us this year and played more down in his career, but he also does have that flexibility. He’s also very good in the kicking game ‘ kickoff, punt coverage, punt return, all those things ‘ positions where he has to run and cover space, but at the same time be physical and play in the open field and match up against other players of his size: linebackers, fullbacks, tight end types in the kicking game in those roles.
‘Trevor is smart, he works hard [and] he’s in very good condition. He’s a good athlete. He can run, he’s quick and he’s long, he’s got good length at the end of the line of scrimmage to handle some of those bigger tackles or the tight ends, the 6-5, 6-6 tight ends with the long arms, that type of thing. I think he’s done a solid job when he’s had the opportunity. We’ve had a lot of competition at those positions with Rob and Chandler [Jones] of course and Jermaine [Cunningham], Justin [Francis], Jake [Bequette]. It’s been a very competitive position, but he’s done well when he’s had the opportunity. He’s contributed a lot for us in the kicking game.’
Here are a few other highlights from his Tuesday afternoon Q&A:
Read the rest of this entry »
|Trevor Scott: ‘I’ll definitely be prepared to have a more active role this week’||11.26.12 at 6:28 pm ET|
‘I really don’t know what’s going to happen in terms of depth chart or whatever, but I’ll definitely be prepared to have a more active role this week,’ the 28-year-old defensive end said Monday evening. ‘If it does increase, I feel like I’ll be ready for it. You can’t control what goes on, but I will control what I can do on Sunday. I’ll go through preparing well this week and just ready for the game.
‘You hate to see somebody like Jermaine go down like that, but it’s out of my control.’
Scott is in his first season with the Patriots, having signed with New England as a free agent on March 19. The University of Buffalo product, who spent the first four years of his career with the Raiders, had a career-high seven sacks in 2009, and finished with 13.5 sacks in four years with Oakland. But to this point in the 2012 season with the Patriots, the 6-foot-5, 265-pounder has mostly worked in relief as a defensive end, as well as a special teamer. He’s played in nine games, and has six tackles.
Asked about the lack of playing time to this point in the season, Scott shrugged.
‘It’s not going to help if I get down on myself and worry about that,’ he said Monday. ‘I really don’t have an control over that. I just have control over what happens when I do get in the game, what I’m going to do.’
Scott’s best game came against the Colts on Nov. 18. In that one, he was on the field fairly regularly after Chandler Jones went down with an ankle injury. According to Pro Football Focus, he played 32 of a possible 78 defensive snaps, and had a quarterback hurry and a defensive stop (defined by PFF as a solo defensive tackle that constitutes an offensive failure).
But now, with Cunningham on the shelf for four games, his role with the Patriots will almost certainly increase.
‘[My preparation] doesn’t change,’ he said. ‘I’m just going to keep doing what I’ve been doing all week, and we’ll see what happens.
The Patriots went through a similar situation last season when veteran defensive end Andre Carter went down with a calf injury in December. In that instance, Mark Anderson — who had been a situational pass rusher to that point in the season — saw an uptick in his snaps down the stretch after he was pressed into regular service. Anderson was able to give a boost to the New England pass rush late in the regular season and into the playoffs. (Down the stretch, Anderson went from playing roughly 50 percent of the defensive snaps to essentially 100 percent late in the year and into the postseason.)
‘Every year there’s always going to be some issue you’re going to have to deal with. That’s just the way football goes. It’s another thing that we’ll just deal with,’ said defensive end/outside linebacker Rob Ninkovich.
‘I think everyone in this locker room is a family. We’re a tight group of guys. I think that anything that happens — just like in any family — everyone is going to come together. I think just like any other time, you come together and work through it.’
While Ninkovich and Scott will likely take on expanded roles, rookies Jake Bequette and Jones (the latter of whom is still working his way back from that ankle injury) will also be asked to do more in the wake of Cunningham’s suspension.
However, the best possible scenario for the Patriots right now may be that Scott steps in and gives them what Anderson was able to provide down the stretch in 2011.
‘We have it set up so that as soon as somebody goes down, it’s the next man in,’ Scott said. ‘You’re expected to perform just as well as anybody else. So that’s why we work hard every week, stay mentally and physically prepared.’